Sunday, January 27, 2013

Luis Garcia, Jockey

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their
 favorite sport

It doesn’t take Luis Garcia long to make a positive impression. Besides being one of the most cheerful, enthusiastic athletes you could hope to meet, the 28-year-old native of Puerto Rico has stamped himself as one of the track’s top riders since arriving at Tampa Bay Downs for the 2010-11 season at the urging of trainer Leigh Delacour. Garcia won 34 races that season, highlighted by his sterling ride aboard 43-1 shot Watch Me Go in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for owner Gilbert Campbell and trainer Kathleen O’Connell. Since beginning his career 10 years ago, Garcia has ridden almost 1,300 winners, with total purse earnings above $27-million. Garcia and his younger brother, Geovany, are well-known on the mid-Atlantic circuit; their uncle Julio is also a successful jockey. In 2007, Luis rode Forty Crowns to victory in the Maryland Million Turf at Laurel. Garcia is married to a jockey, Elizabel Navarro, and has a 2-year-old son, Justin, and a 5-year-old stepdaughter, Brithany. Riding for such outfits as the Delacour stable, H. Graham Motion and Jonathan Sheppard, Garcia’s optimistic outlook is well-founded.


HOMETOWN: Hanover, Maryland.


BEST HORSE I EVER RODE: I got to ride Drosselmeyer here in the 2011 Challenger Stakes, the year after he won the Belmont for William Mott. It was his first race in nine months, he wanted more distance and we finished fourth. But I could tell what kind of horse he was (Drosselmeyer won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic). I’ve also been on a bunch of good fillies for Leigh Delacour, like (eventual Grade I winner) Her Smile, who I won a stakes with as a 2-year-old; (stakes winner) Supreme and (stakes-placed) Ageless.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I used to watch the races all the time with my grandparents, but I didn’t realize I wanted to do this until I was 15. Watching my uncle ride a lot got me motivated, and I went to the El Comandante jockeys’ school when I turned 16.


MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE: Frankie Dettori. I’ve never met him, but I admire his style, the way he handles horses and how he rides the turf. Just the way he sits back on a horse, waiting, waiting, waiting. … and riding pretty aggressive at the end.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Better insurance for all the riders. The Jockeys’ Guild and workmen’s comp programs are good, but they won’t cover everything if you are seriously injured.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM/ATHLETE: I always liked the way (former NBA point guard) Jason Williams played. My favorite teams are the Lakers and the Ravens.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: I want to take my family to France, Italy, all the European countries. And I want to take them to Disneyworld when they are old enough to enjoy it.


FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The weather is great, the people are friendly and the grandstand is always full. You don’t get that up north in the winter.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. ... I might be an aviation mechanic or in the military police. I graduated from that program back home.


FAVORITE TV SHOW/MOVIE: Two and a Half Men and Mama. I like scary movies.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Take your time and try to learn something different every day. And if you fall down, don’t let anyone keep you down – get up and keep trying.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Richard Grunder, Track Announcer

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport


Richard Grunder has called Thoroughbred horse races at tracks the average fan doesn’t know exist. He was 20 when he broke into the profession in 1972 at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, roughly 17,000 furlongs from Tampa Bay Downs. He narrowed that distance early in his career, announcing at Portland Meadows in Oregon, Arapahoe Park in Colorado, Prairie Meadows in Iowa, Canterbury Park in Minnesota, several tracks in Nebraska and Waterford (now Mountaineer) in West Virginia. Now in his 29th season at Oldsmar, Grunder has made enough friends and spun enough track tales to last a lifetime. His masterful call of the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby stretch duel between Street Sense and Any Given Saturday is a YouTube classic. Grunder also hosts the track’s Morning Glory Club on Saturday mornings. He is a jockey’s agent in the summer at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, where he has helped Derek Bell win six track titles and Tanner Riggs claim the 2012 crown. The Dodge City, Kan. native and wife Diana celebrate their 39th anniversary in April. Their son Chad is a high school teacher and coach in El Dorado, Kan.


HOMETOWN: Oldsmar.


BEST HORSE I EVER WATCHED: Here at Tampa Bay Downs, Street Sense. But I was at the 1988 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs on a cold, dark, rainy day – the only Breeders’ Cup I’ve been to – to see Alysheba win the Classic and Personal Ensign rally in the Distaff when she looked to have no chance. It’s an afternoon I’ll never forget.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: My dad, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, took a leave of absence every summer and ran a small stable. I cut my teeth in first grade at La Mesa Park in New Mexico, where I ran the photo-finish pictures to the glassed-in display case.


MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE: No doubt, my father, who passed away in 1996. He was from the Greatest Generation; a tough guy who served in the Army in World War II. He told me I would be a very rich man if I was able to go to a job I liked every day.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Eliminate artificial surfaces. I guess it’s being a traditionalist, but I don’t think it’s fair for stakes horses to have to switch from dirt to synthetic.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM/ATHLETE: Kansas State football and Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze. I don’t hardly know Russell, but just his steadiness every day, whether it’s the first race at Golden Gate or a major stakes, is impressive.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: Making my living at the racetrack. I feel pretty blessed.


FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: Quality racing, even playing surfaces and ownership and management who are horse people and love racing.


BEST MORNING GLORY CLUB GUEST: A three-way photo finish between a couple of Hall of Famers and friends – trainer Carl Nafzger and jockey Kent Desormeaux – and a future Hall of Famer, jockey Ramon Dominguez.


FAVORITE MOVIE/TV SHOW: The Godfather and 48 Hours Investigates on CBS.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Enjoy the run, be ready to travel and remember: it beats a regular job.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jason DaCosta, Trainer

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations
 and reflections about their favorite sport


Gradually, but with unwavering purpose, DaCosta is emerging from the shadow cast by his father, perennial-leading Jamaican trainer Wayne DaCosta. The 27-year-old Tampa Bay Downs newcomer was his father’s assistant for five years, but his memories of accompanying the Jamaican Hall of Fame conditioner to his Caymanas Park barn date to early childhood. After two years in college studying business administration, Jason arrived in the United States in 2009. Despite slow going his first two seasons, he has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Florida. At the current meet, he has saddled eight winners and four runners-up from 18 starters. His 5-year-old gelding Silver Cloud finished second in the recent $75,000 Turf Dash.


HOMETOWN: Kingston, Jamaica.


BEST HORSE I EVER TRAINED: My first horse, a Florida-bred filly named Miss Aristocrat owned by my father. She won her first two races at Calder in 2009 and was third here in the Gasparilla Stakes and second in the Suncoast Stakes.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: Being around my father and his horses since I was a baby.


MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE: Again, my father. He is the best horseman I know. He taught me to be hands-on, check all my horses every day and not to cut corners.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Establish more aftercare programs for retired racehorses. These animals bring us so much pleasure, and I’d like to see as many as possible rehabilitated and pointed toward second careers, not neglected or mistreated.


MY FAVORITE ATHLETE: My countryman, Usain Bolt. He dominated at the last two Olympics, and he was the first man to win gold in the 100 and 200 meters and the 4x100 relay.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: Winning a Breeders’ Cup race.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I really haven’t thought of anything else.


MAJOR DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JAMAICAN AND U.S. RACING: On race days, the fans back home are a lot more passionate. You see guys on street corners with a transistor radio pressed to their ear, the stands are packed and there are off-track betting parlors everywhere.


FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The track is an excellent surface to train on, the atmosphere is quiet and laid-back and the people are friendly.


FAVORITE MOVIE/TV SHOW: Secretariat and The Big Bang Theory.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Keep at things and work hard. It’s a tough game with a lot of ups and downs, but hard work does pay off.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Brittany Rhone, Jockey/ Blacksmith


At California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Brittany Arterburn Rhone competed on the rodeo team. She breaks young horses at the Ocala farm of her parents, trainer Lonnie Arterburn and Doris, and enjoys shoeing her own horses – which, from all accounts, does not create a conflict with her husband, farrier Scott Rhone. In addition to managing the family’s string of runners at Tampa Bay Downs, 27-year-old Brittany has won 114 races since becoming a jockey in 2006. Her horses are almost like family members, and riding them soothes the soul of this energetic, dyed-in-the-wool horsewoman. But she is no one-trick pony: she and her sister, Jamie Rocco, just returned from an audition for the CBS reality show The Amazing Race.
HOMETOWN: Castro Valley, California.
BEST HORSE I’VE EVER RIDDEN: Our 8-year-old mare, Monstrip. We bred her, and I started riding her when she was 2. She has won 13 races and I’ve been on her for every win. She’s a nice, smart mare with a lot of attitude, and that’s what makes her so fun.
HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: When it comes to Thoroughbreds, my family tree has almost too many branches to count. My father was a jockey before he started training, and his father was a jockey. My dad’s sister is married to (all-time wins-leading jockey) Russell Baze, and my sister, Jamie, is married to a jockey, Joe Rocco, Jr. Plus, my husband Scott’s father, Bernell Rhone, is a trainer, and Scott’s sister is married to jockey Dean Butler. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.
MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: I love being around these horses and I love to work. If I’m not working, I’m actually miserable. I don’t like to quit until the job is done, and done right.
ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Go to year-round racing at Tampa Bay Downs. We have a nice home here, and I’m getting tired of shipping all over.

 MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM/ATHLETE: The Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and right wing Martin St. Louis. I like him because he’s small, he’s not a quitter and he’s always in the mix.
NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: Compete in The Amazing Race. It’s something Jamie and I love watching and have wanted to do real bad for three or four years. We auditioned at Gulfstream on Dec. 27 and had to go in front of the camera, tell who we are, where we’re from and why we should be in the race. It was very nerve-wracking. If we don’t get it this time, though, we will continue to try out.
WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … If I wasn’t into racing and horses, I’d be a high school chemistry teacher.

 FAVORITE TV SHOW: The Amazing Race.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The round pens for horses. Most tracks don’t have them, and they allow the horses to relax, roll in the sand, sunbathe and just be horses. It gives them a mental break and is really a fun time.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Even when you’re doing well, work like you’re broke. As long as you’re a hard worker, there will be a slot for you at the racetrack.